Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mea Culpa

This week’s edition of The New York Times Magazine featured, as always, an article on language penned by William Safire. The first half was a typical slice of Americana exploring the old Dutch practice of bundling in New York and New England. However, the heft of Safire’s article didn’t appear until several paragraphs later in which he reveals his choice for Headline of the Year awarded to a copy editor who, “br[oke] through with an inspiring turn of phrase.”

Safire’s choice found its genesis in the following investigation:
The F.B.I. found a Pentagon analyst who had foolishly taken home papers and — by threatening him with prosecution — induced the analyst to type a supposedly classified document about policy toward Iran and fax a “leak” of it to two staff members he knew in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. F.B.I. agents then wired him for sound and further drew the unsuspecting targets — whose jobs were to stay in touch with analysts and known journalists — into the trap.

The Pentagon analyst pleaded guilty to keeping classified documents at home, for which big shots draw a fine. He is trying to reduce his 12-year sentence by testifying in June, as Rabinowitz reported, in “the first ever attempt by government prosecutors to convict private citizens under the 1919 Espionage Act.” That F.B.I. bell tolls for thee and me.

Here is the headline in the Journal that Rob Pollock, who grasped the universal civil-libertarian point of her article, put across the top of the page: “First They Came for the Jews.”

Safire then quotes Martin Niemoller’s oft-heard refrain, “First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew…” The supposed link between an FBI investigation and the policies of the Third Reich is among the baldest manipulations I’ve heard in years: in its investigation of AIPAC, the FBI might as well start handing out gold-colored patches because the federal government is but a few steps away from its final solution. This shameful display of anti-Americanism is not just a lie—it’s a lie with a purpose.

Safire’s phrasing suggests that it’s only natural for AIPAC employees “to stay in touch with analysts;” as if facilitating espionage is as ordinary as stuffing envelopes for a political action committee. What is the proper term for an organization dedicated to supporting a nation with information gained both overtly and covertly, which also engages in media events intended to manipulate a population at the gain of the organization’s benefactor, and which attempts to isolate and marginalize any who would harm the organization’s interests? This sounds like an intelligence service, official or otherwise.

The AIPAC employee to whom the Pentagon analyst disclosed classified information called two people: a member of the Israeli delegation to America and the Washington Post. The first is an obvious choice but the second raises questions: is it in the best interest of the State of Israel that the Post report an impending Iranian attack? How does Israel or AIPAC benefit from a sensational article about a threatened Israel? Rabinovitz, the author of the article Safire addressed, said the leaker was “Hoping to raise the alarm about the imperiled Americans and Israelis” which is all the more curious since each nation has channels legally permitted to transmit information to one another. But that’s not what AIPAC wants; they want a tighter relationship than the government is offering and are willing to build that relationship unofficially through the federal bureaucracy. As such, part of what AIPAC is dedicated to is not just illegal, it is unconstitutional and astonishingly un-American.

I’ve long resisted the thesis of “The Israel Lobby.” I was wrong. The article’s claims were extraordinary and I consequently required exceptional proof; I demanded documentation of an instance when American lobbyists told the federal government that the national security interests of Israel should be placed above those of the US, that protecting Israel is more important than protecting America. This is the smoking gun.

But it does not entirely vindicate Mearsheimer and Walt who go too far. With sincerity, I don’t know to what extent the State of Israel passively or actively supports these lobbyists. But, since AIPAC has actually taken to mimicking their accuser’s terms by calling themselves “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” it can be assumed that AIPAC believes they are untouchable politically.

AIPAC’s interests are not always in America’s best interests: ownership of Jerusalem (which should be totally irrelevant to Americans), stopping Iran’s nuclear programs, tying Israeli and American homeland security efforts, and the enormous military aid we offer year after year ($2.4 billion this year). AIPAC, as it is legally entitled, lobbies Congress and the President for the policies it advocates. But shouldn’t its supporters know that AIPAC is using backdoor methods to achieve goals that are not usually consistent with American interests?

AIPAC’s site reads “For more than half a century, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has worked to help make Israel more secure by ensuring that American support remains strong.” This is a fundamentally anti-American view; it doesn't say anything about 'so long as it does not hurt American interests' or anything like it. Taken in concert with this Pentagon analyst case, I am obliged to conclude that AIPAC is willing to sacrifice American secrets for its own ends. Enough. Striving to help Israel is a respectable mission, but an American citizen cannot place the avowed goals of another country (friend or foe) above his own, especially if they compromise his own country’s security.

I hope the public airing of AIPAC’s laundry will awaken American indignation and disintegrate AIPAC’s viability as an organization. I hope the FBI will continue ruthlessly hunting down leakers who plague the Intelligence Community. Most of all, I hope Americans realize that their safety is their own; leaking secrets and playing both sides are not only bad ideas—they’re anti-American.

No comments: